Everyone should have enough food to eat. Period.
Every single person.
Every child. Every mother. Every father. Every grandmother. Every worker. Every person who doesn’t work.
Every person with a disability.
Every person fighting addiction.
The convicted criminal. The saint.
The loving. The mean. The forgiving. The spiteful. The thoughtful. The vindictive.
During an interview by NPR’s Scott Simon, Rep. Adrian Smith, a Republican from Nebraska, defended cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which is usually called food stamps.
Simon then posed a straight forward question: “Is every American entitled to eat?”
Smith, who is a powerful member of Congress with the ability to influence both fiscal and food policy, struggled to answer. He hemmed and he hawed.
The closest he got to putting out a coherent idea was to say, “Well, they – nutrition, obviously, we know is very important.”
Simon was having none of it. He asked again: “Well, not just important, it’s essential for life. Is every American entitled to eat?”
The answer, if not apparent, should be simple. Yes, every person should be entitled to eat.
Gov. Paul LePage, former Department of Health and Human Services commissioner and now gubernatorial candidate Mary Mayhew, President Donald Trump and every politician who supports cutting food stamps and other assistance programs that help put food on the people’s tables should be forced to answer that question.
Is everyone entitled to eat?
By their policies, it’s clear that they think the answer is no.
Earlier this year, Good Shepherd Food Bank and Preble Street released a report called “Hunger Pains” that examines food security in Maine.
The report’s findings are troubling, to say the least. About 203,000 Mainers struggle with hunger, the report found. One is six Mainers is food insecure. Nearly one in four children in Maine doesn’t have enough to eat.
“Hunger Pains” provides a snapshot of the struggle too many Mainers face to put food on their table. Hunger hits working families, the disabled, children and the elderly.
In his budget, Trump has proposed cutting more than $190 billion from food stamps over the next decade. He’s following a trail to hell blazed here in Maine by LePage and Mayhew, who have taken food away from thousands of Mainers.
On average, SNAP provides about $1.40 per person per meal. That’s it.
Since 2013, more than 60,000 people have been dropped from the SNAP roles in Maine. The LePage administration brags about the decline. His work is held up as a model. Mayhew has been on the speaking tour in DC hyping the cruelty as “reform.”
But the facts tell a different tale. The administration’s policies have left more people hungry and more families have been forced to seek help from food pantries and soup kitchens.
In LePage’s proposed budget for the next two years, he again targeted food stamps and other anti-poverty programs.
LePage and his ilk have divided the country into competing camps. The “deserving poor” vs. the “takers.”
They act as if that they – and only they – have the wisdom to determine who “deserves” assistance, including help with things such as housing, heat, health care and food.
More than 66,000 employed Mainers need the hand up that food stamps can provide because their jobs don’t pay enough to lift them out of poverty. They’re home health aides, cashiers and customer service reps. People who help you or someone in your family almost every day.
Thirty-six percent of SNAP households in Maine include children. One in four include one or more people who are 60 years old or older, and 35 percent include someone with a disability.
And yet, 58 percent of people who receive food stamps leave the program within one year.
LePage and Mayhew have done a masterful job of blurring the lines of humanity, of masking their hurtful policies behind language such as “able bodied adults” and anecdotes of the SNAP recipient who buys lobster, steak or cake while “deserving” people are stuck with hamburger and white bread.
But make no mistake, the effect of their policies have been to increase hunger in the state and to take food away from people.
To my knowledge, no one has asked either of them the simple question: Does everyone deserve to eat?
Pay no mind to the weasel words they might stumble through, they’ve given us their answer with their policies and their actions.
They have already said, “no, everyone doesn’t deserve to eat.”
Say it out loud. It hurts the ear and the heart. Think about how you would explain to your children or grandchildren that some people shouldn’t be able to eat. It’s hard. It might be impossible.
We all know, deep down, that there’s only one right answer. Everyone, regardless of their failures or lot in life, strengths or weaknesses, mistakes or success, deserves to eat.